Bruce Boucher’s favourite paint­ing

John Mcewen com­ments on Woman at a Win­dow

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Bruce Boucher is the di­rec­tor of Sir John Soane’s Mu­seum

The di­rec­tor of the Sir John Soane’s Mu­seum loves this work’s ‘mys­tery and ex­pec­ta­tion’

In 1818, Friedrich mar­ried Caro­line Bom­mer (1793–1847). A year later, to ac­com­mo­date their first child, they moved to a house on the Elbe. This pic­ture dates from around a time when Caro­line was away vis­it­ing friends. Its mood mir­rors a let­ter he sent her: ‘Ev­ery­thing is quiet, quiet, quiet here; this quiet is good for me, to be sure, but I would not wish to have so much quiet around me al­ways. I eat my break­fast alone… I have my mid­day meal alone, my sup­per alone.’

Only when out walk­ing in the midst of na­ture did he feel less iso­lated: ‘He who made heaven and earth is around me, and His love sus­tains me, and may His love sus­tain you and all our friends.’ Friedrich was a con­vinced Chris­tian, im­bued by a strict Lutheran up­bring­ing.

Although not stated, this is surely Caro­line look­ing out across the Elbe to the poplars on its far bank, the masts of two ships as­sert­ing the pres­ence of the only min­i­mally sug­gested river. The stark room seems to be Friedrich’s stu­dio. Per­haps he painted her imag­ined pres­ence?

The win­dow bars form a cross. In Protes­tant new Eng­land, this was called a ‘re­li­gious win­dow’. Of an ear­lier pic­ture he painted of a cross, Friedrich wrote: ‘To those who see it, a com­fort, to those who do not see it, a cross.’ The same can ap­ply here. Some will see win­dow bars, oth­ers a cross and, more than that, a com­fort, the love of ‘He who made heaven and earth’—in Friedrich’s case, sus­tain­ing his fam­ily, their friends and him­self.

‘ I first be­came aware of Cas­par David Friedrich through an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Tate in 1972, but I as­so­ciate Woman at a Win­dow with the cover of a Pen­guin Clas­sic, Lotte in Weimar by Thomas Mann. I bought a lot of Pen­guin Clas­sics in those days be­cause of their cov­ers, which were de­signed by the leg­endary Gerald Ci­na­mon. In this case, the image piqued my cu­rios­ity through its sense of mys­tery and ex­pec­ta­tion. Friedrich’s paint­ing has haunted me ever since and I of­ten re­turn to it, want­ing to know what that woman is look­ing at and think­ing’ what she’s

Woman at a Win­dow (Frau am Fen­ster), 1822, by Cas­par David Friedrich (1774–1840), 17½in by 15in, Na­tion­al­ga­lerie, Ber­lin

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